There is really only one thing that we need to bother saying about Witchcraft II: The Temptress, which is that it's a lot more fun to watch than its 1988 predecessor, Witchcraft. If we are being thoughtful about things and wish to treat the matter of evaluating cinema with all of the delicacy and care it deserves, then perhaps it is objectively correct to propose that The Temptress is a worse-made film, if "film" is the word to use; these were both shot on video and released on video, with never a single inch of celluloid exposed in the creation of the project; as I reflect on it, this also means I have perhaps gone too far in calling it "cinema". But let's not allow vocabulary issues to distract from the point, to wit: these are both giant pieces of shit. But, and this is very important, but whereas Witchcraft is a boring piece of shit, The Temptress is a goofy piece of shit, and this is a crucial difference. It means that The Temptress is at least able to open the door leading towards "So Bad It's Good", and for my tastes, I think it even gets there. And given the extremely low stakes of the world in which we are operating (is any era in the history of the moving image more uniformly terrible than direct-to-video horror of the late 1980s and 1990s?), and the extremely thin margins of "quality", if I can get really feisty and use an extremely ill-advised word, being more fun to watch certainly makes The Temptress the superior work, even if it is by every rational standard no better than the first movie, and in some ways unambiguously worse.

One of the few unironically "good" aspects of the movie, a rarity in the wild and wooly world of DTV horror, is that the people who made The Temptress - director Mark Woods, writers Jim Hanson and Sal Manna, producers Megan Barnett, Jerry Feifer, Renza Mizbani, and the same Jim Hanson (he and Feifer were the only two names on that list who came back from the first Witchcraft, and Feifer is the only one who was involved with the series going forward) - actually cared about series continuity and telling a unified story that would follow naturally on the first and expand its narrative scope. Unfortunately, they didn't put any thought into the ramifications of what they were doing, which is why this very unmistakably 1989 production takes place 18 years later than that very unmistakably 1988 production. Still, points for effort: the scenario is actually trying. We can't take that kind of thing for granted.

It is, after all, the one strength of a movie made up almost entirely of weaknesses, and a big one kicks the story off. At a point in time that is not entirely easy to figure out, now or at any point later on in the movie, the witch Elizabeth Stocton (Mary Shelley), who died over the course of the first Witchcraft, is busily making some black magic. And she does this, I report with all due overjoyed horror, by reciting the cauldron chant from Act 4, Scene 1 of Macbeth - "Double, double, toil and trouble", that part, though in what I take to be an effort to hide their shame, the writers don't actually include those specific words. Doesn't matter. "What's the worst line delivery in Witchcraft II: The Temptress?" ought to be a more competitive race, based on some of the line deliveries we end up getting, but Shelley's attempt to navigate the sing-song rhythms of the poetry, while also putting a suitably menacing, melodramatic villainous spin on it, results in some of the most mind-blowingly bad recitation of Shakespeare I've ever seen on camera (and yes, of course, Shakespeare almost certainly didn't write this material, that's not the important point). I'm particularly impressed by the big dramatic pause she puts in the middle of "ditch-delivered by a drab", perhaps on the grounds that "ditch-delivered" sounds scary, perhaps on the grounds that she doesn't know what a "drab" is.

Anyway, we get through that- wait, I forgot to talk about the music! Even before the bad Shakespeare, The Temptress has treated us to the remarkable surprise of Miriam Cutler's score, which is built around cock-rock guitars and a snarling attitude. It's a long way away from the tinny synths of the first Witchcraft, definitely in the right direction, if only because the startling introduction of rock into  the cheap haunted house theatrics of the opening magic scene, and all points thereafter, gives the movie the illusion of a personality. It at least provides some kind of "wait, what?" tension, and I'll take that if it's all the movie plans to give me.

So Elizabeth's incantations are all about creating a woman - a temptress, if you will, with which she plans to ensnare young William Churchill, the baby whose birth she engineered in the first movie, to serve as the vessel for whatever cosmic evilness she wanted to channel into the world. Only now it's William Adams (Charles Solomon, Jr.), and he's a high school senior now, emphasis on the "senior" - I get that "teenagers" who look like they're more concerned with their homeowners insurance than partying and getting drunk are a longstanding tradition of the art form, but even so, Solomon is a weathered-looking, fully adult man, and his deep baritone speaking voice isn't helping matters. Anyway, William has been raised by the Adamses (Jay Richardson and Cheryl Janecky), though it will be later clarified that he hasn't been "adopted" by them, and it's really not important. What's important is that his wicked grandmother's blonde succubus, going by the name Dolores (Delia Sheppard) is living next door now, and she has come to seduce him in a particularly weak moment: he's been nagging his girlfriend Michelle (Mia Ruiz) about having sex before he leaves for school, and she's even about to give in, apparently, before Dolores comes a-knocking.

This kicks off something that, in the absence of a better word, it's fair to call a "story"; Dolores leave a strange magical dish of some kind, and William attempts to figure out what it is, with the help of his excruciating nerd friend Boomer (David Homb) and local smart girl Audrey (Kirsten Wagner). Meanwhile, Dolores keeps popping up to tempt him, including at one point, standing on a ladder and forcing him to push her up by her ass, in a scene that I admire if only because of the brazen mad tastelessness that led to it being included. When we find out what Dolores's plot has been, it turns out none of the plot actually mattered: all she ever needed to do was have sex with him, and the whole thing about the evil magical object was just, like, killing time. Also, her grand final declaration of the evil plot includes a line of dialogue that technically constitutes a spoiler, but it's such a dizzy, loopy gem of a line that I'd feel rotten to deprive you all of it: "His father was a great warlock! And now his son will fuck me, and our child shall rule the world!" This spoken while she's being blasted by a wind machine and backlit with a strobe light. To her great credit, Sheppard seems to have figured out what kind of movie she's in, and plays Dolores as a collection of camp gestures and line deliveries; turning her entire body into a series of rigid lines and popping between poses rather than moving through them. It's extremely stupid, but also funny and kitschy.

That's the difference between Witchcraft II: The Temptress and its predecessor, really: it's funny and kitschy. And those things are in the eye of the beholder, of course, but this is so hapless in so many ways that I don't know how a bad movie lover could be entirely unmoved. At one point, a nightmarish Satanic vision is achieved by having off-screen grips wiggle flashlights back and forth to create ghost lights. That much haplessness.

This is also, very importantly, the point at which the Witchcraft series begins to dimly understand that its future lies not in godawful, kitschy stories about evil witches trying to bring about Satan's baby, but in good old all-American softcore pornography. We're not quite there. There's a sex scene, though it goes by a bit quickly and is too openly situated in horror to really feel smutty. But there's also a kind of omnipresent, nervous teasing quality to the proceedings, as it just constantly moves in the direction of sexploitation and then gets bashful. William planting his hands on Dolores's ass, for example. Or the way that the power of evil blasts Michelle so hard that her shirt opens up and she's just standing there in a bra. Or the generally slimy sense of sexual hunger that is the only thing William really has to go on as a personality, practically introducing himself in the act of trying to wheedle sex out of his girlfriend by being a petulant brat. That is to say: it's a bit naughty and sleazy, not quite sexual enough to feel honestly smutty, which makes it's almost-there softcore feel all the more sordid and petty. That probably doesn't actually qualify as a "strength", but as discussed, this franchise doesn't have "strengths"; the best we can hope for is that its smallness of spirit and general scuzziness will attain a kind of upbeat energy rather than being crushing and boring, and the underdeveloped peek-a-boo sexuality of Witchcraft II: The Temptress is just exactly right for generating that energy.

Reviews in this series
Witchcraft (Spera, 1988)
Witchcraft II: The Temptress (Woods, 1989)
Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death ("Tillmans" [Feldman], 1991)